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“Not a second regretted returning”: crystallographer Artyom Oganov - on the potential of Russian science

2019-10-14T17:25:16.167Z

Today in Russia there is an opportunity to engage in scientific research at the global level. This opinion is shared by the Russian crystallographer, professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences Artyom Oganov. For many years he worked abroad, but returned home to create a home laboratory in his field. The scientist took part in the XIV All-Russian Festival NAUKA 0+ in Moscow. In an interview with RT, he talked about his method of predicting the structure of matter in extreme conditions.



- Artyom Romaevich, you took place as a scientist in the West, and then returned. Why did you decide to continue your career in Russia?

- I left in 1998, when there were no prospects for work in science in Russia. It seemed to me that the country was dying. I had to leave and realize my dream. My first significant scientific work was done there, because before leaving I was an unknown student. And he returned, because at home it is always better than abroad. For me, all countries as a whole are equal, all are good, but one is special. This is my home, my country.

When the opportunity arose to do my favorite thing at the forefront here, I, without thinking twice, packed my suitcase and returned. Careers in the West developed quite quickly. At the age of 35 I became a professor and realized that I had reached the ceiling, that further life there would be boring. And returning to Russia is a good opportunity to create a leading laboratory in my area here, a chance to prove to myself and others that this can be done in Russia.

Take young children with burning eyes and make sure that they do not go out, so that they catch fire even brighter. I always do things that are not accepted, in science I deal with tasks that were considered unsolvable. Not a second regretted returning - after all, it is really interesting to live here. I enjoy every second.

  • Artyom Oganov spoke about his return to Russia

- In addition to the main scientific work, you are involved in organizational matters, you are a member of the Presidential Council for Science and Education, you participate in the development of decisions that change the scientific landscape of our country. Can you talk about this work?

- The council uses the experience of the scientific work of all its members. I have rich experience, since I lived in England, Switzerland, the USA, I work closely with China. I use this opportunity to formulate proposals that will improve the work in the field of scientific and technological development of our country.

- What is the uniqueness of the Skolkovo project?

- Skoltech is a Western-style experimental university on Russian soil. It provides the same as in the West, salaries, funding for research and laboratories. We have professors from all over the world. It seems to me that Skoltech is working well, I regard this experiment as positive.

The amount of budgetary funds in terms of an employee is quite large. But it cannot be compared with the amount of funds going to the Higher School of Economics, Moscow State University and other large institutions. We do not take the size of the state, but the quality of research.

Already today, articles from our institute are many times more cited than articles from other Russian universities. I believe that my share in this result is also there. When I arrived in 2015, this institute was an embryo, because there were only two dozen professors, and today we have more than 100 professors, more than 1 thousand undergraduate and graduate students, whose level is outstanding.

- How does your USPEX crystal structure prediction method work?

- Science has two main goals - to predict and explain. My method allows predicting the structure of matter under extreme conditions, where experiments are difficult and expensive to do, as well as anticipating and predicting new materials before they are obtained.

The first version of the USPEX method was created by me and my students in Switzerland in 2004, and by 2005 this method was already working. Then I developed it for many years in America, and now I do it in Russia. We want USPEX to work as fast as possible, reliably and be applicable to the widest possible number of tasks.

- In your lecture, you said that some substances under the influence of pressure change their structure and turn into powerful explosives. Will your work lead to the creation of an even more powerful weapon than humanity has now?

- Life, rather, may disappear due to the appearance of some dangerous infections. There is no material that can destroy life on Earth as a result of some gigantic explosion - not that scale of energy. Today, the largest energy is associated with thermonuclear fusion of elements, but even it is not able to destroy the universe. If people explode all their nuclear arsenals, then a significant part of humanity will die, but no more.

  • USPEX program operation
  • © USPEX

Any breakthrough in fundamental science will sooner or later lead to breakthroughs in technologies that can be applied by mankind both for the good and the detriment. We live in a world where people, in order to increase their wealth, resources, power, are ready to enslave, kill other people. But we cannot stop progress, because if we refuse to use these or those technologies, then the opponent will do it. Accordingly, we will lose the war in the evolutionary struggle.

It is unlikely that human life will become better if we try to stop progress, in which I see more good than evil. But the evil associated with defects in human morality is indestructible, unfortunately.

- Belief in God and science, how compatible are they? Are you a religious person?

“I am a believer, but once, like Stephen Hawking, I was an atheist.” Different people have different experiences, which leads them to certain conclusions about life, about the world. You can be a believer and engage in science - there is no contradiction. Science and religion study the world and man, but they do not intersect in orthogonal directions. Science studies the material world, and religion - the spiritual world, which is not subject to scientific research.

- The great scientist Richard Phillips Feynman was a remarkable promoter of science. What do you think of his non-standard way of simply and effectively explaining complex phenomena? Can you explain the essence of your work to a small child?

- A scientist should be able to explain in plain language what he is doing. To do this, you just need to understand well what you are doing. It was a special pleasure for me to listen to Feynman’s lectures, but I don’t like to read them in paper form, because they have a lot of water. I prefer the strict and informative language of the course of Leo Landau and Eugene Lifshits, their lectures are more compact and verified.

I have four children who constantly ask what I do. I try to tell as clearly as possible, but I can explain some things to a little child, and some not. I can popularly explain to teenagers everything that falls within the scope of my work. In general, I’m used to delivering popular science lectures to students, post-graduate students and schoolchildren. I once gave a lecture at a daughter in a kindergarten.

- The Dudley Nobel laureate Robert Hershbach recently told us that there are special centers at Harvard and other American institutes where methodologists train teachers and researchers to talk about their work in an accessible way. Are similar structures needed in our institutes?

- We need such centers, but for this, people themselves must want to learn how to speak clearly. In some cultures, for example in ours and in German, it is believed that a scientist should speak in a dry, verified book language. I believe that Feynman’s language is acceptable for spoken language, and Landau and Lifshitz’s wording is acceptable for written language.

Source: russiart

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